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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Christine Muller

Dr. Christine Muller graduated from Villanova's English MA program in 2002 and went on to earn her PhD in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Muller is now the Dean of Saybrook College, a residential college at Yale. She is also a lecturer in American Studies at Yale. In January of 2017, Dr. Muller published a book entitled September 11, 2001 as a Cultural Trauma: A Case Study through Popular Culture. Lia Mrozinski, a current first-year graduate student, had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Muller about her new book, her experience in academia, and more:

LM: I read on Palgrave Macmillan that your recently published book, September 11, 2001 as a Cultural Trauma: A Case Study through Popular Culture, explores cultural trauma in the early twenty-first century. What catalyzed your interest in this field?

CM: Immediately after September 11, 2001, the idea that the “world had changed” circulated pervasively. I felt viscerally that day when watching the live coverage on television that something portentously disruptive was happening. So I wondered both intellectually and personally what it meant to say or to feel that the world had changed. Trauma studies was a prominent field of inquiry in the humanities by that time, and offered an opportunity to explore this question phenomenologically – not necessarily to try to pinpoint whether and how the world had actually materially changed after September 11, but rather to pinpoint what it might mean that it was widely experienced or perceived as having changed. Through trauma studies, I could see the resonance between how individuals have long characterized their traumatization (also perceiving their worlds as having changed) and how September 11 was being characterized on a much larger scale. Psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman has specified the cognitive consequences of traumatization for individuals, that our fundamental assumptions about how the world works collapse and require restoration (or, more accurately, recalibration). With culture the site of meaning-making, it seemed to make sense that a cultural trauma would be a shared experience of the shattering of culturally-cultivated assumptions. And for me, mainstream, commonly-accessible sites of meaning-making such as film and television and other forms of popular culture presented fruitful opportunities to get a read on how dominant cultural processes were engaging the phenomenon of September 11.

LM: I read on Yale’s website that your research in American Studies focuses on “forms of popular culture have been drawing mass audiences into pertinent ethical and practical questions about power, violence, and historical change” – what types of pop culture do you find more compelling and interesting for your studies?

CM: I’ve been especially interested in film and television. Films such as The Dark Knight and television shows such as The Walking Dead have proven both highly successful with viewers and well-received by critics. Yet, what does it mean that viewers seek to be entertained by these incredibly dark stories presenting constant mortal dilemmas and featuring routinely ambivalent ethics? Viewing media can feel passive, but just one animated conversation after a provocative episode of Game of Thrones – a show laser-focused on how social, political, and military power operates – evidences how actively people are engaging with what they see. The pace of social change in our current historical moment is not lost on anyone, and our mainstream entertainments enable us to direct our questions and our qualms about what is happening, what might happen next, and what we do about any of it in a potentially constructive way.

LM: Were American Studies and cultural trauma both focuses of yours during your time at Villanova?

CM: As an undergraduate, I majored in History and Psychology, with an Honors Program Sequence, and my M.A. was in English. So, while I had not been aware of the field of American Studies (nor the field of trauma studies) until later, it turned out that the disciplines that would intertwine for me in my work in American Studies – History, Psychology, and English – were rooted in my Villanova education.

LM: How were your interests shaped during your time at Villanova?

CM: Villanova’s faculty amazingly combine substantive mentorship of their students with robust scholarly production. Rather than point to a specific interest or academic pursuit, I would say their greatest impact for me collectively was in their modeling of their professional roles. I’ve carried with me a sense that academic work, and especially teaching, can be fun as well as important, but above all, that it should feel purposeful and involve students in questions that matter.

LM: How did the Villanova graduate program prepare you for your Ph.D. at the University of Maryland and for your current position?
CM: My work in American Studies, from graduate school until now, has depended on closely reading texts and situating them within the contexts of both their production and their consumption. Texts become meaningful through the interplay of what authors put out there and what audiences do with what the authors put out there. Villanova’s graduate English program exposed me to a rich variety of literary traditions, from American slave narratives to Irish theatre to the emergent (back in the ‘90s, when I was in graduate school, this was still emergent!) digital age. This exposure to a dynamic range of texts and contexts helped prepare me to critically encounter whatever might be percolating within our rapidly, complexly developing contemporary culture.

LM: What are your primary responsibilities as Dean of Saybrook College?

CM: Yale’s fourteen residential colleges serve as microcosms of the overall undergraduate population: from matriculation through graduation, about 450-500 students are grouped together in each community, which provides housing, dining, intramurals, and other on-campus living experiences according to a basic demographic distribution (the number of athletes, international students, etc.) that reflects the make-up of Yale College as a whole. The residential college dean serves as the chief academic officer within his/her residential college. So, my basic task is to guide students as they work to meet their graduation requirements. This includes reviewing and approving course schedules and advising students about both short- and long-term academic goals, but it also involves substantial efforts when life, so to speak, interferes. When a student struggles academically or personally, I am the triage agent who seeks to determine the nature of the struggle and to direct the student to the appropriate campus resources for support and accommodation. It is a dynamic job and no two days…no two minutes…are ever alike!

LM: What advice do you have for current graduate students about pursuing a career in academia?

CM: There are certainly many challenges within the academic job market. On the most practical level, publishing, presenting at conferences, and networking with others in your field of study remain fundamental components of the traditional tenure-track trajectory.

However, ever since my days at Villanova, I have learned and repeatedly confirmed this truth: do what you enjoy, you will do it well because you enjoy doing it, and doing well what you enjoy doing will lead to other opportunities of the same kind. This means that you need not bind yourself within the academic job market to a do-or-die commitment to a tenure-track position. Rather, you can remain attuned to those kinds of opportunities – but also to others that present resonant ways of exercising your skills and aptitudes. The world is changing but (to keep within the theme of my research!) this need not be traumatic. Research, teaching, and the broader educational enterprise are manifesting in fluid and sometimes unexpected ways. Know what you are able to do and why you do it, and you will find settings in which you can realize your possibilities.

LM: Can you tell me anything about your next/upcoming research project(s)?

CM: With my interest in cultural trauma, I have been thinking about looking again at the first decades of the twenty-first century, but with an eye to the stressors of the era apart from September 11 – for example, rapid changes in commonly-accepted social roles, identities, and values that have been manifesting in substantial public tensions. However, I have only just begun becoming acutely curious about artificial intelligence (AI). While, obviously, science and technology (and Silicon Valley!) have long been thinking very concretely about AI, it has occurred to me that it is fundamentally a cultural construct. What is “artificial,” what is “intelligence,” and what we do about any of it are cultural questions. And AI has been making its way into our everyday lives with perhaps these questions not yet being adequately consciously considered and resolved. Popular culture, from the author Philip K. Dick to the Blade Runner films, has long been wondering about AI, so it offers a ready-made lens by which I can explore what we expect, what we hope, and what we fear about it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ted Howell

Ted Howell, class of 2010, was recently published in the Modern Language Quarterly!

Planted throughout E. M. Forster’s Howards End are the seeds of many dramatic forms of climate change that subsequently dominated the twentieth century. Howards End gathers together major strands of its contemporaneous ecological thought, where distressful events (rural decay, deforestation) are perceived; nostalgia for a pastoral past is honestly felt but recognized as impractical; devastation on a national, imperial, and even global scale is foretold; and hope for the earth’s future comes in a form largely symbolic or mythical—as vision more than prediction. Forster’s awareness of the potentially global significance of local environmental change emerged in concert with the environmental philosophy of his era, specifically the “back to the land” movement and theories of climatic determinism, and was developed in a 1909 short story, “The Machine Stops,” that he wrote while beginning Howards End, a novel best read within its environmental history and contemporaneous reactions to environmental change and together with a work of speculative fiction that helps account for the aura of impending apocalypse that saturates it.

MLQ Volume 77,  Number 4:  547-572. 2016
For full article: http://mlq.dukejournals.org/content/77/4/547.full

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jonathan Kadjeski

We are happy to report that class of 2016 Alumnus Jonathan Kadjeski is an Adjunct Instructor at Eastern University. Congratulations, Jonathan!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Alumni at the Study of American Women Writers Triennial Conference

Alumna Kerry Hasler-Brooks ('10) is presenting at the Study of American Women Writers Triennial Conference in Philadelphia this weekend. Her presentation "Anita Scott Coleman, The Crisis, and a New Negro in the Borderlands” will be a part of the panel titled "Blurred Space, Hybrid Life in the Early 20th Century." Hasler-Brooks is now a faculty member of Messiah College.

Don James McLaughlin ('09) is also participating in the conference. He is giving a paper titled “Is Transneglect a Transphobia?” as part of a roundtable discussion titled "Inbetween: What Gender Variance Means to the Study of American Women Writers" which was organized by our own Dr. Jean Lutes.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Don James McLaughlin

Don James McLaughlin is the recipient of the Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Dissertation Fellowship, awarded by the University of Pennsylvania's McNeil Center for Early American Studies. The award is a yearlong fellowship for the 2015/16 academic year.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ted Howell Quoted in New York Times

Ted Howell, a recent alumnus of the program and a PhD student at Temple University, is getting attention for breaking ground with an innovative new course at Temple. “Cli-fi: Science Fiction, Climate Change, and Apocalypse" focuses on the new genre of "Climate Fiction," which shows the possible apolcalyptic outcomes that are inevitable if climate change continues as predicted. This course is getting media attention for the way it brings together literature and cutting-edge scientific findings. The course focuses on this new movement in literature (exemplified in such works as The Wind-Up Girl), which harnesses the concerns of a culture that feels the threat of apocalyptic climate change. In addition to getting students thinking about the intersection between climate science and fiction, he also encourages his students to participate in the wider climate change conversation by posting all their work to a blog. He was recently featured in a Reuters article, a New York Times feature, as well as of course a write-up in Temple's English Department Blog.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rebecca Hepp ('13) Transitions to Senior Associate Editor Position

Rebecca Hepp, a 2013 graduate of the Graduate English Program, is now a senior associate/web editor for Jobson Healthcare Information's Review of Optometry magazine, a national, monthly magazine based out of Newtown Square. "So far I am really happy with the move!" Rebecca says. "It's mostly print now, but they brought me on board to help revamp the website and give it some much needed TLC."